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KathleenAlzheimer's Research UK
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In loving memory of the late Kathleen Flora McGonigle who died on 29th November 2014
Kathleen Flora McGonigle. I think my mum liked her middle name until Terry Wogan first marketed the margarine for Lever Brothers in the 1980s - Terry pressing his finger to his lips and whispering 'Flora'
Mum was born Kathleen Phillips in Plaistow London E13 in 1924. Her loving and close family comprised of her mum Flora and dad Alex with her two older brothers Bert and Alec and little Kathleen. Her brothers were soon married and Kath - as she was always known - grew up a happy and intelligent child. She was friends with the caretaker's daughter and was allowed to play with her friend in the Holborn Road school after the other children had gone home. The actress Honor Blackman lived in the next street, long before The Avengers and Bond years. Mum was a good athlete and very fast runner - she competed for her school. She had many early childhood illnesses and contracted Diphtheria when she was six, from which she nearly died. In 1940 during the London Blitz the area was badly bombed and the family moved to the relatively safe area of Rainham in Essex. The family loved their new home and garden - which her father adored and produce a huge amount of food for the family and friends throughout the war. He also grew roses.
One night, Kath adamantly refused to go to the air raid shelter preferring instead the warmth of her own room and comfortable bed. At around 2am however she awoke from her sleep to hear the terrifying sounds of bombs being dropped along the nearby Thames River. She decided that it would be prudent to join her mother and father in the shelter after all. Running down the path she tripped and fell and as fearsome sounds of the war rang in her ears she found that her dress was caught in her father's roses, pining her most effectively to the ground! Suffice it to say, Kath was thenceforth always first to the shelter. Kath's chosen career of nursing was curtailed after a year due to the War. She narrowly escaped death one evening after swopping a shift with a colleague, her ward at Rushgreen hospital in Essex took a direct hit, killing three members of staff and 28 patients.
Other careers including working in Jay's department store in London's Regent Street. She trained as a draper's assistant and after that transferred to the Cooperative Society. Kath also went to work for London Transport on the buses which she much enjoyed and was once shown how to drive a red double decker bus. Her main route was from Central London to Potters Bar in Hertfordshire.
After the war my mother met my father Tom, an Irishman from Belmullet in County Mayo. They lived happily in Rainham until my adored grandfather, Alec died. They then moved to a newly built Bungalow in nearby Upminster. My grandmother, Flora went to live with them. My mother gave birth to my brother Paul in 1959 but sadly he died after only three days. They had practically given up hope of another child but at last I came along the following year. When I started school my mother resumed her career with the London Co-op in the drapery department in the Upminster Store - which she much enjoyed. Her beloved mother Flora - with whom I was also very close died in 1971. We went to church every week at St Joseph's in Upminster and my parents took much comfort from their faith. My mother was a convert to the Catholic Church upon marriage.
Her final career of many years was that of a home help - which was actually more like a carer as she undertook much personal support for older people. Whilst she commenced this role on her trusty Raleigh push bike, she eventually took to the streets on a Honda motorbike in 1974 and in her leathers she regularly corrected petrol station staff saying that she was 'a Madame, not a Sir'!
Mum was a loving and dedicated wife and mother, always putting our needs before her own. Whilst she was kind and thoughtful, she could be formidable at times. I'm reminded of the plaque on our kitchen wall which read, ‘I wasn't hired for my disposition: if mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!'
My father retired early due to ill health from his job with the May and Baker chemical factory in Dagenham - where he had worked for 37 years. My mum cared for him with unfailing love until he died in 1998.
In 2000 mum went to live in a bungalow in Clacton on Sea - the venue for many holidays in my childhood. She lived there happily for nearly six years - living through a major and nearly fatal cancer operation in 2003. It was at this time she first meet my partner Gary - with whom she soon grew to be very close. Mum always had a meal ready for us as we arrived and she treated Gary like a second son. In 2006 mum's health deteriorated and she began to become forgetful. Mum moved to Purfleet in Essex with Gary and me but as the house was quite small and it soon became apparent that we would need something larger. So began the mammoth task of selling my mother's bungalow, Gary's flat and my house, followed by the move to Hunstanton. A formal diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease and Vascular dementia was made in 2007.
Mum had many happy times here and enjoyed being so near the sea again. Mum was fairly mobile for the first few years and was able to go to her clubs in Wells and King's Lynn. Mum attended the Heritage House club in Wells on the day before she died. Much of her lively and fun personality was still very evident. Mum's health continued to slowly decline but she was able to attend our civil partnership in 2011. Her happy and smiling face that day was a great joy to me and Gary.
Whilst Gary and I had cared for mum since 2006, we began to get help for a few hours a week from care agency staff. I'd like to pay tribute here to my partner Gary whose extraordinary love and support to my mother and myself meant that she was able to stay in her own home until she died. On behalf of my mother, thanks too to all our friends who supported us all, including Monica Brotherton and family, partner Alan Smith and Larissa and Steve Foreman. Thanks too to Father Michael Ryan and Father Henry and to the amazing Anne Bretherton who sat and held mum's hand on many occasions. Mum loved her visits to Gary's family in Essex to see his mum and dad, Terry and Lilly, sister Kim and partner John and Nephew Andrew. There were many other people who helped us, including the staff of Housing 21, Extra Hands and Allied Health Care. Mum had marvelous support from the Valentine Road surgery and the district nurses.
I'd especially like to mention Michelle Wright who over the last two years provided exceptional care and love for my mum. Michelle became part of our family. Thanks too to her husband Paul and daughters Hannah and Hope for letting us borrow Michelle for so long. Michelle's attention to detail in my mother's care is noteworthy. A full beautician service was given every morning, including hair, face powder, lip stick and Channel no. 5 perfume. This routine happened every day up to the day she died. Doctor Thorpe once remarked that my mother always looked as if she were heading for a Buckingham Palace garden party - in fact, once, quite recently, on Michelle's day off another carer did mum's hair in a different, very severe style and I remarked to mum that she looked like old Queen Mary. Mum thought this was very funny and roared with laughter.
The house now seems strangely quiet without mum and we miss her every day.
Your loving son, Mike